Most folks have heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and could probably even identify a picture of it without much effort. I mean, it’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa, how could you not? BUT have you ever heard of the Leaning Church-Tower of Suurhusen? Didn’t think so.
I had never heard of Suurhusen, a tiny German town of 1200 people, before arriving. Although we only spent about fifteen minutes there, Suurhusen managed to impress me. Why? The oddity of an world-record-winning bell tower that seems to be teetering on the edge of collapse.
Apparently, when Suurhusen’s church was constructed at its swampy location in Northern Germany, around 1450, oak tree-trunks were used as piles in the foundation. This was effective for a few hundred years because the beams were immersed in a preserving groundwater. However, when the area was drained in the 19th century, the piles rotted and the church began to bend, warp and twist. The bell tower began to lean.
The tower leaned, leaned and leaned some more over the next few decades until it finally attracted the attention of the Guinness World Record folks, who granted Suurhusen the title for the highest (unintentional) tilted building on earth. Suurhusen’s bell tower beats the Leaning Tower of Pisa by almost 1.22 degrees. Impressive!
As we strolled around the building for a few minutes, evidence of decades of desperate, makeshift repairs peppered the walls. New lines of bricks laced the walls, arches previously holding windows were unevenly bricked up and wedges had been forced into the structure in numerous places in an effort to stem the warping. As I stared down the walls, my mind struggled to make sense of the impossible collection of angles, curves and bows. The tombstones in the adjoining graveyard accentuated the chaos of the church by standing straight and stiff as soldiers on parade. The church and bell tower tricked my brain into believing I was gazing at an optical illusion of some kind, a visual trick that needed to be seen from a different perspective to see the real picture. The problem was that, everywhere I looked, a new curve stymied my senses!
I think the reason I enjoyed Suurhusen so much was that I find something appealing about buildings in the midst of decay. Shiny, well maintained structures may be nice, but I rarely find them to be beautiful. Suurhusen’s church was warped, bended, broken and crumbling and that’s why I found it so charming. The quirky world-record shtick was just a bonus!